What are the benefits of Gilead? As Ofglen 2/Lillie put it before they cut out her tongue and she pivoted to blowing herself up along with that Red Centre, everybody in Gilead has a bed, a job, clothes and food. Pollution is down, organics are up, and the globally dwindling birth rate is rising. What’s not to like?
Well, quite. The introduction of people like Swing Set Woman, the fanatical Mrs Wheeler and the rest of Serena’s Canadian fan club allowed The Handmaid’s Tale to confront a couple of uneasy truths. One is that regimes as barbaric as Gilead in our world are regularly appeased for economic reasons, the other is that nowhere is safe. Where there’s religious fundamentalism that disallows human rights, there’s a threat to society. Having lived through it once, June sees Serena’s soft power “Information Center” and lovely gift baskets, and knows what they really mean: bodies on the wall.
That’s why June took the news of Serena’s release with such dazed acceptance. To her, it’s very simple: to stop it all from happening again, she has to kill Serena. And one day, she will. Unless husband Luke – or so he says – gets there first. And in the meantime, June and Luke will turn each other on with their Bonnie and Clyde outlaw vibe, fetishize each other’s gunshot wound scars, and have what looks like some of the best sex of their lives. It’s hot being a righteous assassin.
Serena wasn’t exactly doing damage control to minimise the threat to her life this episode, quite the reverse. Safely behind the walls of her new Gilead-themed castle, she clearly felt emboldened. When Commander Lawrence warned her against underestimating June, she prodded the wound by sending that invitation. Was that Serena’s attempt to replace her fear with control? Or does she subconsciously feel that her final confrontation with June is coming and, with that act of needless provocation, is trying to hasten the inevitable?
However Serena’s fictional analyst might describe that behaviour, they wouldn’t applaud it. Nor would they applaud her cruel goading of Luke about his failure to rescue Hannah and the “support” his wife received from Nick in Gilead. O-T Fagbenle was terrific in that scene, from his surprising endorsement of June’s violence, to the vulnerability he cracked open when he switched from posturing to pleading with Serena to help him get Hannah back. You’d never see that appeal come from June’s lips; she knows Serena’s sadism all too well.
Speaking of sadists, ‘Dear Offred’ jolted Aunt Lydia’s piece along the board as she went from making a deal with God a couple of episodes ago to making a deal with Janine in this one. Lydia wants to turn things around. She wants to act with more… compassion, she tells the woman whose eye she plucked out for misbehavior. Commander Lawrence may have burst her new Handmaid scheme bubble with his unfiltered take on what really goes on in Gilead, but Lydia’s still determined to change.